Apple considering buying cobalt directly amid booming demand

Posted February 22, 2018

The sources in the report claim that Apple is looking to sign contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year, for up to five years, or maybe even longer.

"We're not sure whether (Apple) want to buy the cobalt for the battery makers that supply them or whether they are planning to stand behind the cobalt supply chain as guarantors", a cobalt industry source said. Other companies like BMW, Volkswagen, and Samsung are also aiming to secure multi-year contracts for supplies of the raw material to produce electric vehicles. Any phone company that needs lithium-ion batteries is ultimately sourcing much of its cobalt from the DRC. Apple says it is working to end child labour in cobalt mines, and it has partnered with a number of NGOs to focus on the DRC particularly. Reports indicate that now about a quarter of all cobalt mined globally is used in smartphones and the demand for cobalt is expected to boom by 2030.

The move to get more supplies of cobalt means the technology giant will find itself in competition with electric carmakers and battery producers to lock up cobalt supplies. On it's part, Apple declined to comment on the issue. South Korea's top oil refiner, SK Innovation Co., agreed to a deal this week of $3.9 billion with Australian Mines Ltd. BMW is also close to securing a 10-year supply deal. Over the past eighteen months, the price of cobalt has tripled to more than $80,000 a metric ton.

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Apple and other major cobalt consumers are scurrying to access cobalt resources that are now limited-not because of the amount of ore available, but because mining companies can't get it out of the ground fast enough to keep up with everyday demand of rechargeable batteries.

Ivan Glasenberg, the chief executive at mining firm Glencore, said late previous year that Apple was among several companies that the Anglo-Swiss enterprise was talking to about cobalt, without giving further details.

About 62 per cent of the world's cobalt supply is now controlled by China, and more than 90 per cent of that comes from Congo, according to metals consultancy CRU. The country's cobalt imports from the Congo reached US$1.2 billion in the first nine months of past year. It was the largest private investment to date in Congo.

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Apple is among the largest consumer of cobalt.

Glencore Plc Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg late a year ago named Apple among several companies the miner was talking to about cobalt, without giving further details. Cobalt is a key component of smartphones batteries, and it's estimated that each smartphone uses around eight grams of refined cobalt.

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